JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field
1.Pressure Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett.We'll start here because if the Jaguars can do it, that will be the game's deciding factor – and they should be able to do it. The Colts have allowed 28 sacks in the last five games, with 10 of those sacks coming against the Jaguars in a 27-0 Jacksonville victory at Indianapolis in October. Brissett has thrown just five interceptions this season, but he has had a tendency to hold the ball and take sacks – and that plays into the Jaguars' ability to cover and give the pass rush extra seconds. The Jaguars remain in the league lead in sacks with 41, and they have been remarkably consistent turning pass rush into points; they lead the NFL with six defensive touchdowns. This is a matchup in which the Jaguars' strength is going against an opponent's weakness. If the Jaguars take advantage, they should win.
2.Protect the ball.We talk often about the Jaguars' needing to score defensive touchdowns, but it's too much to ask for them to do that every week. This is a matchup that favors the Jaguars even without points from the defense. The Colts are struggling enough offensively that the only way Indianapolis figures to get enough points to win is with points off defense or special teams. The Jaguars' offense is enduring some significant struggles of its own, but the unit has protected the ball and only committed 15 turnovers in 11 games. If they can avoid giving away points Sunday – and if they finish drives in Colts territory with at least field goals rather than fumbles or interceptions – it's hard to see Indianapolis generating enough offense to beat the Jaguars.
3.Stay poised, keep playing.This could be key because there's good chance this game stays tight into the fourth quarter. Why? Although the Jaguars shut out the Colts in Indianapolis earlier this season, it's tough to blow a division rival out twice in a season. And since that mid-October loss, the Colts have played Cincinnati (24-23 loss), Pittsburgh (20-17 loss) and Tennessee (20-16 loss) tough while beating Houston. Indianapolis has a good enough defense to keep games close. But the Colts' season has been defined by allowing teams to come from behind in the second half and they have been outscored 117-28 in the fourth quarter. This game could be tight late, but that's the NFL in December. If the Jaguars don't panic and play their game, they should win a third tight game in the last four weeks.
1.Find something that works in the passing game …I was tempted to start with the running game and the offensive line, but let's be real: running against stacked boxes isn't working. The Jags must figure out what they have in the passing game and go into the Colts game with a plan that will get at least one defender off the line of scrimmage. Maybe that's more Marqise Lee or Dede Westbrook – or perhaps it's getting the backup tight ends running down the seam. I don't know, but whatever Head Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett dream up, it's about execution not cuteness. Just be able to perform in the moment on Sunday.
2…. which brings us to the offensive line. It sounds as if the Jaguars stand a solid chance of getting Jermey Parnell back at right tackle and perhaps Patrick Omameh at left guard. Parnell is the key. He is a road-grading blocker who was playing at a pretty high level before tweaking his knee late in the game against Cincinnati. Josh Wells is a solid guy and Marrone praised him on Monday, but Parnell is a different level player and his physical presence would help significantly in the run game. Other than Parnell and Omameh returning, help is not on the way; this group with a rookie left tackle who appears to have hit the "rookie wall" must find the solution amongst themselves. Quarterback Blake Bortles won't be standing in Tennessee in the regular-season finale if he takes many more beatings like he took in Arizona, which means stronger protection is needed – and something better than we've seen in the running game since the last matchup with the Colts.
3.A word about the defense. The Jaguars' defense has been really good and close to great all season. On Sunday in Arizona it delivered a sack/strip touchdown and a timely interception near midfield – both in the fourth quarter. The only thing more you could have wished from them was a stop on the series after end Calais Campbell's fourth-quarter fumble return for a touchdown; that's asking a lot of a unit that has gone above and beyond since Houston in Week 1. But this offense is limited in scope and the best hope the Jags have of advancing to the playoffs and winning is its defense. So fellas: if there is another level in you – and most of you have told me there is – it's time to find it. It's the only choice you have and it's clear as daylight that your side of the football is where the game-changing moments are coming from in December – and perhaps in January.